Among several problems, which Dhaka citizens encounter everyday, waterlogging during the monsoon season remains a severe one. There are many canals and even few rivers inside and surrounding Dhaka to contain the additional rain water. But those canals and riversides are mostly illegally grabbed or fully filled with garbage and hence lost water flow. Dhaka WASA was primarily responsible for managing these canals but failed to do so coordinating with all relevant authorities over the years. Recently the two city corporations of Dhaka were given the responsibility giving the Dhaka dwellers new hopes with lots of uncertainties.
The capital’s city corporations formally took over the management and maintenance responsibilities of 26 canals and 10 kilometres of box culverts from Dhaka Water Supply and Sewerage Authority (WASA). They had been responsible for the 26 canals (84.5km) and the 10 box culverts (around 10km) since 1988. It also looks after 385km of storm water drainage. On the other hand, the DNCC and DSCC have been managing 2,200km of pipe and surface drains. From now on, the two city corporations will have the responsibilities of solving the water logging problem of Dhaka city.
We must appreciate that, this move of assigning the maintenance of these canals to the city corporations is a progress for the concept of city government. But to make this move successful even Dhaka WASA needs to come under the authority of the city corporations as many works are interdependent. Like; WASA is still responsible for the sewerage management and all the residential and commercials sewerage systems end up in the canals. While the city corporations will keep cleaning the canals and WASA will keep putting sewerage wastage in those canals as well as will keep collecting sewerage bills from the citizens cannot be acceptable. Proper measurements to keep the canals clean of sewerage wastes must be taken which should be joint responsibility of WASA and the city corporations.
According to experts, 25 percent open space and 12 percent water bodies are needed in a city. Dhaka has a lot less than the required. As mayors and councillors are public representatives, they would be able to recover the water bodies ensuring public support, which may be effective.
From the speeches of the city mayors and few councillors, it was evident that, they want to remove all illegal occupants adjacent to the Dhaka canals soon and they might not even issue a prior notice before uprooted. There are two types of illegal occupants – mighty illegal land occupants who do not have any legal documents and rather using their political strength and secondly, general people who had been living at those areas for years and may even possess some legal documents. These illegal occupants are the citizens of Dhaka too and the mayors and councillors cannot use brutal force to remove these people.
The city corporations must issue proper notice before eviction drive. The people should be given time to show their documents like; city survey, ‘khatians’, mutations etc. If they, by any means, have legal papers, then the city corporations need to compensate them before eviction. If someone does not have legal papers, then too the city corporations need to think about.
There are many empty government lands inside Dhaka. Rehabilitation facility like Bhashan Char should be built at those places so that, these people who are for decades living adjacent to these canals and have no other place to go, can be rehabilitated. If we can create housing facility for the Rohingyas, we must also take responsibility of these Dhaka dwellers as Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has also expressed her commitment to keep no people homeless.
As the city corporations are now in-charge of the Dhaka canals, another concern is already in front of our eyes. Reportedly, few councillors are already using this new responsibility as a new tool of corruption. In the name of eviction, they are threatening the canal-side occupants and is collecting money from them. Few have declared selves as the new controllers of the canal-side lands. These illegal occupants have to please the city representatives now. The city fathers must keep a sharp eye on such incidents so that these canals do not become new source of corruption.
If the city corporations succeed to vacate the adjacent areas of these canals as well as the banks of the four rivers surrounding Dhaka, then they must plan to protect and beautify those areas. The government should also give a quick drive to complete the planned roads over the Dhaka city protection embankments surrounding the capital. 300 feet road is already planned over these embankments. For decades, these Dhaka city embankments are under the authority of Water Development Board and hence, could not be utilized properly. These embankments should also come under the jurisdiction of the city corporations.
If these roads are set, the inter-district vehicles which pass through Dhaka need not enter the city. Moreover, it will significantly increase the road quantity and will make Dhaka better capable to manage its traffic. These roads are even more important than the metro rail project and will require very low government funds to be completed. Due to COVID-19, the educational institutes are closed, many have left Dhaka and hence, the traffic jam is not much felt now. But as soon as Dhaka becomes fully functional, the traffic situation will go bizarre. Hence, the government should so focus on activating these roads soon.
Massive development of Bangladesh took place during the last decade under the farsighted leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Dhaka had been at the center of that development. We have invested a lot behind this city. If this city survives, then Bangladesh will keep progressing. Hence, it is very important that, we do everything needful to ensure the survival of this city. Dhaka WASA for several reasons had been a failure to revive and protect the canals of Dhaka and now the city corporations have a mammoth task to achieve that goal. It is hence necessary that, these two city corporations receive proper funds, manpower, technical and logistics support to complete their tasks properly.
We hope the city corporations perform their tasks without any sort of corruption so that the canals as well as the riverbanks of Dhaka are protected and revived. But the possibility of huge corruption makes us afraid as most of our councilors have negative track records. But for now, we must remain hopeful and we hope for a beautiful and vibrant Dhaka city soon.
The writer is Chief Editor at Mohammadi News Agency (MNA), Editor at Kishore Bangla and
Research Centre (DRC)